'Films for Adults' a dying breed
Like Mark Twain's premature obituary, rumours of the death of "Films for Adults" have been greatly exaggerated. But this genre is on life support in Hollywood. It is now a crisis of taste, opportunity, marketing and big money. The situation has never been worse and shows no signs of getting better.
You should note, however, that "Films for Adults" means serious stuff, not "adult films" for the sex market. In my world, films for adults are sophisticated, smart, complex, ambitious and aimed at more mature audiences than summer popcorn fare. They tell stories that -- dare we say it? -- explore the human condition. Even on a rudimentary level, that means they have humans in them, not aliens, monsters, vampires, werewolves, zombies, Transformers, talking Chihuahuas and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
For a reference point, look at all 10 films nominated as best picture of 2011 for the 2012 Oscars. Going past the French-made winner, The Artist, the runners-up were: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Descendants, The Tree of Life and War Horse.
Each falls within my Films for Adults category, even though titles such as Hugo and Extremely Loud feature children as the protagonists. There are no fart jokes; no aliens, et al; no comic book characters; no attempts to dumb down the storytelling.
As for films of 2012 which could be candidates for the Oscar race in 2013, the list is just as highbrow: Ang Lee's Life of Pi, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, the remake of Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley, Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis as Honest Abe, P.T. Anderson's much anticipated drama The Master, and the fullblown remounting of Les Miserables with an all-star cast.
The big exception will most certainly be The Dark Knight Rises. It obviously has comic book origins and it snaps and crackles with the action and spectacle that audiences expect from a summer blockbuster. But it is also extremely sophisticated in its subtext, invoking the French Revolution and its bloodbath aftermath as a metaphor for what happens in Gotham City. Christopher Nolan is currently the only mainstream auteur who can get away with such innovation.
Exceptions prove the rule. Otherwise, we have to slog through piles of trash for something intelligent. Like David Frankel's marriage drama Hope Springs, opening Wednesday with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a couple in a 30-year meltdown. It is one of the few Films for Adults to play this summer.
You can also find strong adult fare in film festivals. Jeff Nichols' Arkansas coming-of-age drama Mud, with Matthew McConaughey as an outlaw who exploits and yet mentors two youngsters, played at Cannes and struck a chord and has a future. But the sad truth is that most filmfest titles will never be seen in theatres.
Discouraged? Veteran Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg is. When he released his adult-themed Cosmopolis recently, he lamented the state of the movie business today, especially the refusal of U.S. companies to fund indie filmmakers like himself.
"You can't get a cent. You can't get the money up-front. So you have to forget about America." That affects casting and shooting locales. "It's an interesting game. It's a puzzle. But it can be frustrating."